A slightly different version of this obituary had appeared in the Key West, FL Keys News.
John Michael Keith, of Sebring, Florida, died July 11, 2023, following heart surgery. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, he wrote a number of popular bluegrass songs during his career. Keith was 80 years of age at his passing.
In his early career, Michael worked as a broadcast journalist at WGST Radio in Atlanta, where he covered seminal moments in the civil rights movement, and interviewed its leaders, among them Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, and Julian Bond.
He later moved back to Greenville, where he attended Furman University and raised a family. He followed in his parents’ footsteps to open a retail clothing store, John Michaels.
In the early 1980s, he moved to Key West and worked as a tour guide for Historic Tours of America. He loved sharing the island’s history, legends, and lore on his trolley tour — a job combining his love of performance and history. On days off, he devoted time to his life-long dream of writing country songs. During three decades in Key West, he met and married writer June Keith. Together they created Palm Island Press, a publisher of books and music.
Michael achieved success as a songwriter, co-writing popular country and bluegrass songs with his Nashville writing partners Dave Lindsey and Matt Lindsey. He hit the country charts with the song, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, performed by the band Perfect Stranger.
Michael and his partners also wrote many bluegrass songs, recorded by such artists as Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver (Johnny and Sally), Lou Reid and Carolina (Mama, Picture Me There, and Blew Monday), Jesse McReynolds (Blue Mountain Melody), and The Spinney Brothers (What A Wonderful Life).
A highlight of his song-writing career was having four songs on the Larry Sparks album, Almost Home, the title cut of which hit #2 on our Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay chart, and spent 11 weeks in the top ten. The album was a nominee for the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Award for best album. Almost Home was also named the #2 bluegrass song of the Year for 2012 by another chart. He also had songs recorded by Kati Penn, King James Boys, and Charley Pride.
Michael’s life was celebrated privately by his family, as per his request. His family expresses deepest gratitude to long-time friend and hospice nurse Eileen Reeve.
R.I.P., Michael Keith.